Here is a piece I recently turned in for my class. I got some good feedback, but haven’t made any changes yet. If anyone is up to the challenge of critiquing a bit, your thoughts–good and bad, and including helping me come up with a better title–are welcome.
“You participate in a competitive league for shopping cart polo?”
He looked like someone had just told him that his grandmother had been seen traveling down Park Avenue bouncing on a pogo stick.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Why not?”
He was confused. Was this the same girl who’d said on their first date that she spent most of her weekends during college running away to a family cabin in the woods to quilt? Maybe she wasn’t telling the truth. Perhaps he was out to dinner with a mythomaniacal liar.
She could see this in his face, and watched as he tried to piece together what facts he knew of her, trying to figure out where this scrap fit. All night she’d had the feeling that she was letting him down—that the girl he’d perceived in the beginning was a specter that would haunt all future interactions.
His therapist had told him that he had a tendency to do this: “When you meet a person, you tend to focus on their very best qualities, or at least the ones that are most appealing to you, which is a wonderful thing. But remember what happened with Julia?” Oh Julia. “After your first date you didn’t call her for several weeks.” Too scared. “But you thought about her the whole time, and when you finally did see her again it was terrible. Why was that?” Expectations. Too much time to think and imagine her. “Your tendency is to make these people into abstractions based on a few realities, and they can’t live up to that. It isn’t fair.” Ouch.
She sat looking at him now, wondering how long he was going to take to process everything. At least he was doing it silently. It would have been painful to listen.
In the small and crowded restaurant full of couples and thankfully no children, they sat. She, looking at him with her head tilted slightly to the side. He, gazing at his empty plate. A small candle flickering between them.
“Would you like your check, sir?”
He looked up, and then slowly around to the other tables, hoping to follow the lead instead of making a decision.
“Yes, please. Thanks.”
She looked down at her half-empty plate.
“I’m sorry that I’m not who you thought,” she said.
“Don’t be sorry about that. I’m sorry that I assumed. I had no reason to do that.”
She didn’t quite understand what it was he had assumed. That she always ran away to cabins by herself for craft time? That he could understand and join her strange world simply by collecting and coalescing the facts? She could tell that his heart was falling through him and beginning to seep out onto the wooden floor around their table. Perhaps it would create a moat and shield them from everyone, she thought. But then there would be no heart left at the table besides her own.